|Emotional Stigmata: Living
As the Victim of Clergy Sexual Abuse
3. Alleged Sexual Abuse Leads to Self-Destruction
By Melissa Wangall
Editor’s note: This article contains sexually explicit material
that may not be suitable for all readers. Reader discretion is advised.
All non-clergy members’ names have been changed due to the graphic nature of the alleged abuse and the age of the victim at the time of the alleged abuse.
Life was different for 13-year-old Thomas White after he returned home from a four-day trip to the Wisconsin Dells in the summer of 1969. He had allegedly been raped by his 38-year-old priest, and the scars of that weekend would be permanently etched in his memory.
White began self-medicating himself with heroin, cocaine, alcohol and marijuana, and began planning ways to end his life. His once high marks in school fell to barely above passing, and he failed all of his classes in his first semester at West High School.
White’s middle-class, blue collar parents had entrusted Catholic priest Theodore “Ted” Feely, then assistant pastor at St. Anthony’s Church in Rockford, to take their son on the four-day trip. Feely was a trusted member of the community, and he had even spent significant time with the family. But during the trip to the Wisconsin Dells, Feely allegedly fed White Balantine scotch, Budweiser beer, and Camel filter cigarettes. White awoke in the middle of the first night to Feely allegedly choking, sodomizing and masturbating him.
“I knew something happened to him,” Thomas’s brother, George, said about his brother’s return from the Wisconsin Dells. “I could see it in his eyes. I asked him what happened, but he wouldn’t tell me.”
Thomas White’s experience with Father Feely had erased all trust and respect the teen-ager had for authority figures. He began to get into trouble at school and stopped participating in sports.
“I felt uncomfortable in a locker room situation,” Thomas said.
Thomas was also hypersensitive to being called certain sex-related names. “If anyone called me p---y or f----t, I would just see red,” he said.
All of these are symptoms of post-abuse behavior, but Thomas’s parents had no suspicions of what had happened to their son. Teen-age angst and rebellion were the accepted explanation, and it was unthinkable to believe a priest who had often visited their home could harm their little boy.
Trouble with relationships
At 14, Thomas had his first consensual sexual encounter with a 19-year-old girl, another person with power over him in years.
“Most boys my age would have been anticipating that, but I was petrified,” Thomas said. “After that occurrence, I didn’t like to move past kissing or holding hands for quite a while.”
According to the National Child Protection Clearinghouse (NCPC): “Sexual abuse of children occurs during a period in life where complex and, hopefully, ordered changes are occurring in the child’s physical, psychological and social being. The state of insecurity leaves the child vulnerable to sustaining damage that will retard, pervert or prevent the normal developmental processes.”
A child who has already had to cope with, for example, a problematic family background (White’s father had a drinking problem, and both parents worked full time) or prior emotional abuse, would be more vulnerable to the additional blow of child sexual abuse, NCPC explained.
At 15, Thomas’s problems became too much for him to deal with at home, and he moved into his older brother’s apartment. He went to school, worked, and dealt drugs. “The smallest amount of marijuana we sold was a quarter pound,” he said.
This, too, eventually became too much for him and he moved into his own apartment. In 1974, at the age of 19, he returned home. He attended Rock Valley College and attempted a degree in police science. He never completed the degree.
Thomas was plagued with problems during both his adolescence and adulthood. In particular, he couldn’t hold any committed relationships.
Julie Barthels, Rockford Sexual Assault Counseling (RSAC) clinical director, said: “The No. 1 relationship issue for survivors [of sexual assault] is trust.”
Thomas’s nights were restless as he was plagued with nightmares where Feely would again be choking him. He woke up suffocating, and suicide attempts became regular occurrences.
A deadly game of Russian roulette
One of Thomas White’s numerous attempts to end his life is particularly startling.
As a friend looked on fearfully, White played the deadly game of Russian roulette. He had successfully pulled the trigger of a Smith and Wesson .38 Special against his temple four times, subsequently adding a bullet into the chamber after each click.
The 21-year-old White loaded another bullet, filling five of the six chambers. As his friend tried to intervene, White pointed the gun at him.
“It was nice knowing you, Edward,” White said to his friend. “God, forgive me.”
White placed the barrel of the gun into his mouth. He pulled the trigger. It clicked. He laid the gun down, told his friend he could have it, and headed for Chicago.
While in Chicago, White bar hopped and began the trip back to Rockford. He stopped at an Exel Inn on the way back, charging three days to his credit card. His friends and family became extremely worried; they had no contact with him in the last couple of days, and two guns were missing from his collection.
White’s concerned family called the police. His emotional status and his possession of two guns made the family fear a sniping incident. When police found him, White threw his unloaded guns out to police. He then opened his door a crack to speak with his mother.
Police rushed in and apprehended White. He was released when it was discovered he had a gun license; he had not committed a crime.
White did, however, sign himself into a psychiatric hospital. He stayed for the weekend, subsequently signing himself out against doctor’s advice and his family’s wishes the following Monday morning.
White’s behaviors are consistent with those who have been sexually abused as children. Following are some such behaviors explained by Jim Hopper, Ph.D., in an article titled “Child Abuse Statistics Research and Resources”:
“Ignoring painful feelings may reduce one’s conscious experience of them, but it also prevents one from learning how to manage them in smaller doses, let alone larger ones—which makes one vulnerable to alternating between feeling little or no emotions and being overwhelmed and unable to cope with them.”
“Avoiding getting close to people and trying to hide all of one’s pain and vulnerabilities may create a sense of safety. But this approach to relationships leads to a great deal of loneliness, prevents experiences and learning about developing true intimacy and trust, and makes one vulnerable to desperately and naively putting trust in the wrong people and being betrayed again.”
“At the extreme, getting really drunk can block out painful memories and feelings, including the feeling of being disconnected from others, but can cause lots of other problems and disconnections from people.”
Giving up drugs
In the early 1980s, White gave up drugs after supplying a friend with drugs and watching him overdose.
“I knew I had to change, or I’d end up dead,” White said. “I pulled a complete 180 in my life.”
White, however, still drank heavily—up to a fifth of vodka a day.
“It was like water to me,” he said. “It got to the point where I was drinking at 8 in the morning.”
Barthels explained: “People [survivors of sexual abuse] fear they will be overwhelmed by their emotions and use drugs and alcohol as numbing agents. They need to be exposed to their emotions in small amounts as to learn how to deal with them.”
As Paul E. Mullen and Jillian Fleming reported in their article “Long-Term Effects of Child Sexual Abuse,” “A review of 12 studies conducted prior to 1995 indicated that the rates of child sexual abuse among those in treatment for alcohol abuse varied from as high as 84 percent to as low as 20 percent.”
Like his father, Thomas continued to work just fine while under the influence of alcohol. He served as a foot soldier in the U.S. Army from April to September 1981, when he was discharged for “void enlistment” after it was learned he had been arrested on previous occasions for disorderly conduct (bar fight at the age of 21) and petty theft (17 years old). White’s recruiter had made a mistake.
A marriage, a divorce and a child
Around the time of his military service, White met his future wife, Terri. She was 18 and he was 25. She converted to Catholicism while he introduced her to the booze he used to forget his religion. Through their problems, they maintained a relationship.
In 1984, Thomas and Terri were married at St. Anthony’s Church. Terri thought it was the “most beautiful church she had ever seen.” It was “very difficult” for Thomas. He still hadn’t confessed to anyone what had allegedly happened to him in the summer of 1969, not even his wife. In 1985, Terri gave birth to a son, Mitch, who was baptized at St. Bernadette’s.
White still had relationship problems. It was hard for him to trust others, and he felt the need to always be in control. That was the only way he was sure others would not hurt him. He divorced his wife in 1987 after being unfaithful to her. His son was 2 years old at the time.
According to Mullen and Fleming’s report: “Sexually abused children not only face an assault on their developing sense of sexual identity, but also a blow to their vision of the world as a safe enough environment and their developing sense of others as trustworthy. In those abused by someone with whom they had a close relationship, the impact is likely to be all the more profound.”
Mitch’s education would follow his mother’s desires—he was sent to parochial school. The church became a drop-off and pickup point between Thomas and his wife for weekend visits with Mitch. Thomas liked the parochial school environment, but did have concerns for Mitch.
Thomas began to attend mass again, eventually becoming a lector, a Eucharistic minister, and a Cub Master—all affiliated with St. James, his son’s elementary school.
When Mitch was 14, Thomas told his son and his friends, all altar boys, that if “a priest touches you in a way that makes you uncomfortable, you have my permission to beat the s--- out of him.”
White received some phone calls from other parents after that remark.
During this time, White was employed by the U.S. Postal Service. He worked
there for 19 years, serving in union politics. He was disciplined many
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.